HESP August 1, 2017

Many of us have a dream to be successful and to be able to introduce some changes in the world. However, the pathway to success is usually overwhelmed with hurdles, or in other words, the path to success often takes the shape of a long highway full of unexpected speed bumps. Some people may believe that they need a unique talent to maintain the ability to ride such a rough highway. According to such people’s opinions, they must have a car with special qualities in order to maneuver such dangerous highway. A car that would not simply break down when it hits a speed bump that comes completely out of the blue. In my country Egypt, roads are filled with unexpected speed bumps everywhere. In this regard, the question is what this car should be made of. Should it be made of Pure Ingenuity? Should it be made of Sheer Luck? Should it be made of Extreme Wealth? Should it be made of Charismatic Personality? Should it be made of Endless Ambition? Should it be made of Excellent Education? The answers to such questions have been elusive for quite some time, as many scholars tried to explore this field for decades without reaching a conclusive result. We can deduce from several studies that excellent education is, most of the time, one of the main elements of a successful life. Accordingly, I will try in the following paragraphs to expound the correlation between education and success in the eyes of different people, such as relatives of a criminal, students, professors, writers, and others (including myself).

Speaking to her daughter, “Alma said ‘I don’t care! You are going to finish school and go to college.’ Alma had never been to college, the great regret of her life, and like Mary, she became a mother well before she entered her twenties”.[1] Alma is the grandmother of the Other Wes Moore – the criminal character in the book The Other Wes Moore. Alma uttered these words shortly after Mary’s Pell Grant was terminated, which meant closing “the door on her college aspirations”.[2] When you read the book The Other Wes Moore, you can’t help but try to find the point where it all started, where the road was paved for the Other Wes Moore to be a criminal instead of a good guy, to be a villain instead of a hero. Some readers strongly argue that Mary did not exert enough effort to keep her son on track, but the question is whether Mary received enough education for her to be capable of achieving such a goal. If Mary received her college degree, she might have been able to secure not only a better job and a better paycheck, but also the necessary skills to be a better mom and a better mentor to her son. Of course, it is difficult to say whether a college degree would have completely changed the course of the Other Wes Moore’s life, but education could have at least provided Mary with a better opportunity to help her son. That’s how important education can be in one’s life, or in other words, education is vital in keeping the car on track on the very bumpy pathway to success.

Christopher Kamau, a sophomore majoring in chemistry at Worcester State University (“WSU”) came to the U.S. when he was just a little kid. He was born in Kenya and spent the first part of his life in Kenyan schools. Kamau was a little surprised when he enrolled in the public school system in the US, as he told me “Kenya was a 3-month grade system, while the US was a 9-month grade system. I liked the 3-month system as it was more stick to the point, while the 9-month system was kind of drawn out.” Kamau felt that young kids would not be able to retain information for the whole period of 9 months; he felt it was too much. We need to admit that finding the best way to teach children at a young age is like ensuring that your car is equipped with breaks suited for a long rocky road. In his book The Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell offers us a different perspective on the education process in US public schools, as he states that “the long summer vacation – a peculiar and distinctively American legacy… has had profound consequences for the learning patterns of the students of the present day”.[3] Gladwell provides us with the recipe for success as applied by one of the charter schools in New York (“KIPP”) when he says, “KIPP’s response is simply not to have a long summer vacation… It seems counterintuitive but we do things at a slower pace and as a result we get through a lot more”.[4] Maybe Kamau has a point. We might simply need to provide our children with a more relaxed style of education over longer periods of time. This could help with increasing the retention rate of young children, preparing them for a college education, and providing them with better opportunities to succeed in the future.

“Money was the main reason I applied to a public university. Students at private universities might think they are better than us. However, they take more or less the exact same classes”, said Mikayla Wolf, a senior at WSU with an undeclared major and an art minor, when I asked her about her opinion regarding public and private universities in the US. Our conversation proved to be interesting enough, as we were blessed with the opportunity to listen to some of Dr. Audrey Wright’s intriguing thoughts on this subject. Dr. Wright called Ivy League Schools “movers and shakers. They are expensive networking”. Dr. Wright further elaborated, “If you are not rich, it will be harder in Harvard – an Ivy League School. You would not be able to compete with the other kids socially”. This got me thinking and asking whether a Harvard graduate would have a better opportunity than a WSU graduate in the current very competitive job market. Both Wolf and Dr. Wright shared the same opinion, as they both think that a Harvard graduate will probably have a far better job opportunities than a WSU graduate, even though such opportunities may not have much to do with the quality of either graduates’ education but rather more to do with the ranking and the reputation of their schools. In other words, at a certain point education ceases to be the driving force of success; other factors get in the way and can prove to be more important, for instance wealth or opportunity for networking. This is the exact difference between Christopher Langan, the genius who has an IQ of 195 (even better than Albert Einstein whose IQ was only 150), and Robert Oppenheimer who was the head of the atomic bomb project in the US. Gladwell compares Langan and Oppenheimer in his book The Outliers, “If Christopher had been born into a wealthy family … He would have been knocking back PhDs at seventeen… These were things that others, with lesser minds, could master easily. But that’s because those others had help along the way, and Chris Langan never had. It wasn’t an excuse. It was a fact”.[5]

It’s difficult to provide a certain set of qualities for an educational pathway to success for everyone. Education is usually a controversial topic, and success often has different definitions based on everyone’s perspective. All I can say is that, firstly, having a high-quality education can definitely help a lot when you are up there on the highway dealing with unexpected rocks, stones, and speed bumps. Secondly, pushing for a more stress-free education over longer spans of time could provide little kids with the necessary aids to achieve long-term success. Thirdly, getting into a reputable school could result in more opportunities for success, although you need to be aware that when you get into such reputable schools, you might be “selling a part of your soul” as Dr. Wright describes it in her own words. I could not find a better way to sum up this essay than quoting this aphorism from the book Find Me Unafraid, “Talent is universal, but opportunity is not”.[6] Sometimes it can be as simple as that, and it all comes down to seizing the right opportunity at the right time!

[1] Moor, Wes. The Other Wes Moor. p21
[2] Moor, 17
[3] GladwellMalcolm. The Outliers. p254-255
[4] Gladwell, 261; 262
[5] Gladwell, 110; 114-5
[6] Oded, Kennedy and Posner, Jessica. Find Me Unafraid: Love, Loss, and Hope in an African Slum. pxii-xiii





About the author:

My name is Ibrahim Shehata, I am a Corporate Lawyer from Egypt who currently lives in North borough, MA. I am currently a student at Harvard Extension School as I try to obtain a Certificate in Principles of Finance.


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